Everybody loves a good hug. Hugs are a universal language that communicates love, comfort, and reassurance. But there’s more to hugging than just feeling good. The science behind why we hug reveals that there are complex biological and psychological processes at work when we give and receive hugs.
Research has shown that the fuzzy feeling we experience when someone gives us a warm hug can actually make us more resilient to stress-related diseases. Hugging has been found to boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, reduce pain, improve sleep quality, and keep interpersonal relationships thriving.
The evolution of hugs
Touching is one of the most important forms of communication in the animal world. Great apes, which share roughly 99% of DNA with humans, have been observed to use hugging as a way of settling conflict and consoling each other when they are distressed.
When primates engage in grooming, they use gentle, sweeping strokes to move the fur out of the way. This form of physical touch has been found to stimulate CT neurons found in the skin of hairy animals. Once activated, these neurons stimulate the production of endorphins in the brain. The same exact mechanism underlies the act of hugging between two people.
Endorphins released during a hug act in a similar way opiate drugs do: they relax tense muscles, reduce the perception of pain, and produce feelings of euphoria.
Health benefits of hugging
When it comes to health effects of hugging, the science is clear: besides triggering the release of the natural pain-killers endorphins, hugging also increases the level of oxytocin.
Oxytocin increases our tolerance to pain, lowers our blood pressure, and reduces the stress hormone cortisol. But that’s not all. Also known as the ‘love hormone’ or the ‘cuddle hormone’, oxytocin is currently under investigation for its anti-anxiety properties.
The combined effects of endorphins and oxytocin that occur when we hug have been found to have the following health benefits:
- Lower blood pressure
- Decreased heart rate
- Enhanced resilience against bacterial, viral and fungal infections
- Higher pain threshold
- Reduced symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression
- Improved sleep quality
- Better memory
- Increased feelings of happiness, security, and overall wellbeing
How hugs help your relationships
Scientists have argued that one of the reasons people hug each other is to keep arguments from causing long-term damage to our relationships.
According to this study, the act of touching between two people can reduce negative feelings after a conflict. After being interviewed on a daily basis for two weeks, 404 adults who had recently experienced conflict in their relationships reported that hugging after a fight helped them resolve the problem and avoid feelings of resentment.
So how much hugging is enough to experience all these incredible benefits? When it comes to hugs, the more the better but try to aim for at least 8 hugs a day.
There you have it! A hug a day keeps the doctor away, so don’t shy away from giving your loved ones plenty of hugs. It will make you healthier, happier and keep your relationships strong for years to come.